Emergent curriculum is the idea of powerful, personal learning in which what is taught is most relevant as a result and an extension of a child’s own experiences and connections. It is typically closely associated with (the fabulous) schools with Reggio Emilia approaches and often references Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism.
I found myself twirling around notions of emergent curriculum in a somewhat meta fashion and reflected on my own experiences of emergent learning and growth as an educator and learner in many contexts. Have a peek at some of my musings:
I have powerful and vivid memories of stumbling across a 5-ft marine worm when taking a school group tide pooling in Kachemak Bay in Alaska; I remember standing in the foot of the boat I worked on as a marine science educator watching a grey whale and her calf breech repeatedly next to us, making what I could have sworn was eye contact. I’m reminded of azure skies above the Tetons and laughing until our bellies hurt with a group of students from rural Wyoming. I’m reminded of smiles shared over steaming cups of tea in a barn, my Ama beaming with pride over my corn-kerneling skills- she a woman from rural Nepal and I a young woman with Scandinavian roots, both somehow adept at the same skill, despite little, even a language, in common. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have been a student of place and to be mesmerized by the magic of unknown.
Though, these were big, in-your face and “obvious” moments of learning underscored by awe. I’ve omitted from my musings some the moments of frustration and things gone “wrong” in days before and after those moments- of plans falling through, or students/parents/colleagues/administrators with whom I was frustrated (or in turn, frustrated myself). I’ve also omitted any classroom scenarios as well as many other memories in which experiences I was SURE would generate wonder, amazement, curiosity, and general poignancy in fact fell flat for one reason or another. Perhaps the memories I listed were ones in which I felt wholly present and connected in a time and space with others- a moment in which I felt significant yet small, aware of the grandness of the world but also the improbability of it all. There’s simply no way I had any control over these moments beyond setting up an experience and trusting and stumbling, as the text said, in the unknown.
I’m currently in the throes of marathon training, a seemingly masochistic activity, but something that makes me feel grounded and connected, while humbled. “Chop wood, carry water” is a phrase those in the endurance community use to describe the mundane or otherwise unextraordinary work we tend to do in between the flashy or even the sorrowful work. One great workout will not promise me a fast race; a bad workout will not guarantee a slow race. Rather, the sum efforts of showing up, trying new things, and trusting in the one known- that I am capable of coming out on the other side in any workout- is what makes the magic possible. Chop wood, carry water. Perhaps it’s the same way in teaching: that the act of balancing our knowns, our structures, and our continued act of showing up set the stage on which the magic will be performed. A stellar field trip is not enough to ensure a school year of vibrant learning and engagement, though one botched lesson on neutrons surely isn’t enough to derail it all. Chop wood, carry water, allow the magic.
- Where have you seen emergent curriculum successfully implemented?
- What are some of your own ideas on emergent curriculum?